Republicans chose Rep. Newt Gingrich to be House speaker Monday, extolling him as "a visionary" as they savored preparations to take control of the chamber in January.
Gingrich will not technically assume the office until an election by the full House of Representatives on Jan. 4. But his selection Monday by the soon-to-be-majority GOP - by voice vote and without dissent - made the Jan. 4 contest only a formality.Rep. Richard Armey of Texas, a conservative, was elected by unanimous voice vote to the No. 2 position, House majority leader.
The Clinton administration, meanwhile, on Monday denounced as untrue and "reckless" an assertion by Gingrich that up to one-fourth of the White House staff used illegal drugs in recent years.
White House chief of staff Leon Panetta said, "We cannot do business with the speaker of the House who is going to engage in these kind of unfounded allegations."
The selection of Gingrich was like a football pep rally with the throng of Republicans yelling "Newt, Newt, Newt."
Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, in a nominating speech, said the choice of Gingrich will "go down in history as a turning point for America. Newt Gingrich is a visionary, a believer in basic values."
Bonilla said Republicans, as the new congressional majority, will not only be fighting liberal politicians but "we will also be doing battle with the liberal media."
In a seconding speech, Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., called Gingrich "the most visionary thinker in politics today . . . a strategist and tactician of the first order. He is actively listening to Republicans of diverse points of view."
The speeches were often interrupted with thunderous applause.
As he accepted the nomination, Gingrich reminded the Republicans that no Republican majority in the House had been re-elected since 1926. "We are now faced with the challenge of a longer precedent," he said.
After the GOP chanted his name, Gingrich joked that "I was standing back there hoping that nobody would say no."
Although the GOP has gained majorities in the House twice since 1926, they have not been able to repeat it in the following Congress.
The 51-year-old Georgian pledged "cooperation, not compromise" in the wake of the GOP sweep on Nov. 8 that gave the party control of the House for the first time since 1954.
Gingrich, long a blunt-spoken figure, charged on national television Sunday that several people who work in the Clinton White House had used drugs prior to joining the administration and said that had delayed their security clearance. The White House called the statement "reckless."
Gingrich said, "It's very clear that they had huge problems getting people through security clearance."
The conservative Republican also defended his proposal for placing welfare children in orphanages and suggested that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton see the old movie "Boys Town" before discounting the idea.
White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers Tuesday denied Gingrich's allegations on drug use, saying that the White House had a stringent policy against drug use and adheres to random drug testing rules.
Myers said that if any employees tested positive for drugs they wouldn't be working at the White House any longer.
"It's irresponsible," she said. "He offered no evidence to support his reckless charges. He offered no facts, he offered no names."
She said that everyone who works at the White House was asked in writing if he or she had used illegal drugs within the previous five years as part of the FBI clearance process.
"They ask you in interviews whether you've ever used them," she added.
For some Democrats, combat with Gingrich will be based on more than ideology. He is a bitter foe who helped bring down Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, and whose tactics have been personally vexing for years.